Nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the U.S., accounting for about 4 million registered nurses. Filling a critical role in the function of hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes, nurses provide expert care from birth to the end of life. However, the need for RNs has surged during the pandemic. This, combined with an already short-staffed workforce and high-stress work environments, has exacerbated the situation.

HealthDay News recently reported on understaffed nursing homes, and how the greatest need is in minority communities. The article sheds light on the disparities that the United States healthcare sector faces, particularly in nursing homes. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society takes a closer look through an analysis comparing nursing facilities in a privileged versus impoverished neighborhood.

Researchers concluded that skilled clinical workers, such as registered nurses and physical therapists, were in short supply in nursing homes in poorer and minority neighborhoods. They found that severely disadvantaged areas had roughly 38% fewer physical and occupational therapists in comparison to well-off areas, in addition to around 30% fewer registered nurses and 5% fewer certified nursing assistants.

Researchers also studied a 100-bed facility in an impoverished neighborhood, concluding that RNs provided about 5.6 fewer hours of care per day compared to facilities in more advantaged communities. Lastly, the study found that this harms the patients seeking treatment even after they leave. Jasmine Travers, the senior author for the study and assistant professor at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, said that this disadvantage could include more falls for nursing home patients, increased use of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medications, and high numbers of pressure sores.

“It’s going to have a trickle-down effect to the nursing homes when it comes to recruitment,” Travers told HealthDay News. Disparities within our healthcare system ultimately begin with recruitment, as it serves as the baseline foundation for a successful healthcare system. Improving staffing levels not only benefits nurses and healthcare facilities, but most importantly the patients. In order to see visible, long-lasting improvements we need to build a proper foundation, and that starts with an all-of-the-above recruitment approach that includes additional travel nurses and foreign-educated nurses.